Anger at plans to build houses on green space in housing estate
PUBLISHED: 05:30 18 September 2019 | UPDATED: 10:34 20 September 2019
A developer's bid to expand a housing scheme into a site it had pledged to keep as green space has left residents incensed.
Hopkins & Moore's application for three new homes on the former bowls green in the Melton Park development would set a dangerous precedent, opponents say.
Objectors said the application showed developers would go to "any lengths" and could have "wider implications" if the protected site, which has become a haven for wildlife, was used for housing.
They criticised Hopkins Homes - which is closely affiliated with Hopkins & Moore - and which built the original Melton Park development in the late '90s when the agreement was made to preserve the bowls green.
Hopkins & Moore said the green had fallen out of use due to the club's low membership and had been out of action for nearly a decade, despite being marketed. It said it was proposing to build new homes, in keeping with the neighbourhood, rather than leave the site overgrown.
Concerns have also been raised about the possible implication for St Audrys Sports Club, which was relocated as part of Melton Park development to a site nearby. The club is in rent arrears with its landlord Hopkins Homes, which is offering to sell it the site for an estimated £200,000.
Hopkins Homes said the sale of the sports club would offer members a chance to gain "full control over their own destiny" - and it was not considering any other uses for the site. The club said it was "excited" by the offer.
But opponents say recent actions threatened to overrule agreements made decades ago as part of Hopkins Homes' original Melton Park application. The 1996 application sought to create 200 homes by redeveloping the former St Audry's Hospital and surrounding land.
It included a Section 106 agreement requiring Hopkins Homes to retain sporting facilities, including the bowls green and a nearby golf course. It also required a football pitch and cricket ground to be provided and for St Audrys Sports and Social Club to be relocated to a new site.
The club said at the time "all of this meets with our approval".
But since the development's completion there has been growing concern over the loss of sporting facilities - which have been exacerbated by the latest application.
This newspaper reported in 2009 that the bowls club faced uncertainty after the landowner, Peal Estates, increased the annual lease from £500 to £2,000. During the ensuing dispute, Peal Estates built a gate locking club members out of the green and changed locks to the clubhouse.
The club, which was formed in the 1920s, moved out to Wickham Market.
Peal Estates has since sold the land back to Hopkins Homes. The two companies are closely affiliated, sharing their headquarters and several directors.
Since then, the bowls green has become overgrown and a haven for wildlife, including foxes and owls.
Objector Christopher Hutton-Williams said the developers had already shown "apparent disregard for previous agreements".
He referred to complaints raised by Melton Park Residents Association in 2001, after commercial uses were agreed for the site, against its wishes, including the creation of Hopkins Homes' headquarters. The association chairman had said at the time: "We as residents of the park have no confidence that any of the planning conditions imposed for our protection will continue in force."
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Cheryl McNay said the rent increase was "clearly a tactical approach", while Elizabeth Turner said the site "must be retained for present and future residents". "The Section 106 agreement was put in place to preserve exactly what is now being threatened," she added.
Tony Rhodes accused the landowners of "wilful negligence" in allowing the green to deteriorate as it now "stands to prosper from its inaction".
Mr Rhodes said overruling the S106 could be "the thin end of the wedge" as other protections would also "evaporate".
Barrie Page said the proposal would have wider implications for the community, highlighting the situation at St Audrys Sports Club.
The club has not commented on the application. However, it confirmed it was negotiating with Hopkins Homes about buying the ground and clubhouse.
The club said no price or timescale had yet been agreed but it had plans to raise funds. "We are excited about this development and see it as a chance to be in control of our own destiny and move forward with our vision for the future of our club," it added.
Melton Parish Council is due to discuss the application at 7pm tonight (Wednesday) at 17 Riduna Park.
East Suffolk Council will make the final decision.
What the developers had to say
Developers have responded to concerns about the loss of sporting facilities,
Simon Bryan, development director for Hopkins & Moore and Hopkins Homes, said while the bowling green had been used for many years, the club's low membership meant it was no longer viable for them to remain.
"Subsequently to their departure, we continued to market the bowling green to other clubs for a number of years, but sadly it has remained unused now for nearly a decade," he added.
"Rather than allow this land to be unused and overgrown, we are proposing to build three detached houses which are in keeping with the neighbouring homes."
Mr Bryan also explained the proposed sale of the St Audrys Sports club, at market price, as a means to "give the club long-term security and full control over their own destiny".
"What has to be highlighted around this offer is that the club owes Hopkins Homes significant rent arrears accumulated over a number of years," he added.
"We hope to see the situation with the land resolved in the near future so the club can continue to prosper. At present, we are not considering any alternative use for the site."